Tennessee Legislators Target “Natural Hair Stylists” With Fines

A Tennessee resident, Fatou Diouf, is being charged with a steep fee of $16,000 in fines for hiring unlicensed workers at a shop for which she’s licensed. And she’s only one of many Tennessee residents to be hit with these outrageous fees. The argument is that these braiders must all become licensed, whether for natural hair styling or braiding; working professionally as a hair stylist requires a license. Diouf told Forbes, “I never did any other job but hair braiding my whole life. I cannot recall a time when I did not know how.”

As Diouf has, many braiders have come from a part of Africa—Senegal in her case—already having known how to braid and already having established a name or career for themselves by doing so. A license is not necessary. Tennessee requires “natural hair stylists” to complete at least 300 hours of coursework, an amount of time that they can’t sacrifice or spare alongside the $1,500 to $5,000 of tuition.

Hair braiding is cultural “back home.” It’s a skill possessed by many. Fatou recalled that years of experience made her road to a license feel like a “waste of time.”

“We don’t need 300 hours to know how to wash a clip or a comb,” she said. In almost half of the country (23 states), hair braiders can work with a license, according to the Institute for Justice.

In partnership with the Institute for Justice and the Beacon Center, Fatou is working to get a bill passed that would get rid of the state’s requirement for natural hair stylists to be licensed if they already have the skill. According to a testimony by deputy commissioner Brian McCormack, there have only been two health and safety complaints against natural hair stylists since 2010. “The department has opened more than 200 administrative complaints for unlicensed activity where we have seen no sanitation violations,” he said.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance alongside state lawmakers are already standing behind the bill. The House Business and Utilities Subcommittee, for which McCormack works, described the policy as “burdensome.” And hopefully, legislators will follow. Fatou, who owns a shop with a license, believes that she was targeted as her shop has no offenses. With fines, she’s currently paying $830 a month to the state, Forbes reports.